Snow polo back in Aspen for seventh year with another star-studded field
Seven years ago Marc and Melissa Ganzi brought snow polo to Aspen and they’ve been able to watch it grow into one of the city’s biggest holiday events. With some of the best players in the world back in town this week, it’s again time for the one-of-a-kind competition to take center stage.
“What’s exciting for us is we are getting closer to our 10-year anniversary than anything else,” Melissa Ganzi said. “It’s something people now look forward to in the city. That makes us really happy and it’s part of our way to kick off the holiday season.”
The 2019 St. Regis World Snow Polo Championship officially kicked off Tuesday night with the annual team draw, hosted by St. Regis Aspen. The short introductory event included the presentation of all six teams and established the bracket for Wednesday’s qualifying round robin games at Aspen Valley Polo Club in Carbondale, which the Ganzis founded.
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ChukkerTV’s Dale Schwetz did most of the presenting on Tuesday, with international polo star Nacho Figueras, who co-hosts the event with the Ganzis, saying a few words ahead of the draw.
“We are going to make a big effort for that not to happen again,” Figueras joked of team Richard Mille winning the 2018 championship. “Let’s go to the draw and hope that my bracket is as soft as possible.”
Bracket A is comprised of teams St. Regis, who Figueras plays for, Flexjet and U.S. Polo Assn. Bracket B features Richard Mille, newcomer Royal Salute and Aspen Valley Polo Club. The top two teams from each bracket after Wednesday’s qualifying round will faceoff in the championship game at 1 p.m. Friday at Rio Grande Park in Aspen. The second-placed teams will play at 3 p.m. Friday in the de facto third-place game. The awards presentation will follow around 4:15 p.m.
Last year it was Marc Ganzi, Martin Pepa and Pablo MacDonough who led Richard Mille to the championship. MacDonough, a 10-goal player (polo’s highest ranking) from Argentina, is the only returner for Richard Mille this winter. He’s joined by France’s Edouard Pan and Julien Reynes.
Juan Martin Nero, another 10-goal player from Argentina, was expected to participate this year but broke his ankle competing in the prestigious Argentine Open last week. Both he and MacDonough were part of La Dolfina, which just won the 126th Argentine Open, considered “the most coveted polo trophy in the world.”
While Nero won’t play, the tournament still includes many elite players, including Nic Roldan (U.S. Polo Assn.), the highest-rated player in the United States who has won the snow polo MVP award multiple times. Horacio Heguy, a legend in the polo world, will compete for Royal Salute. Heguy will play alongside Malcolm Borwick, one of England’s best players, and France’s Pierre Henri Ngoumou.
“It’s great for America. It’s great for Aspen. It just helps generate more attention,” Melissa Ganzi said of the international stars competing in Aspen this week. “Aspen, I think it’s the most special place, but it’s nice for others to see it and it brings attention to the area. Having the best players in the world is unique and special.”
Marc Ganzi is not slated to play this year in defense of his championship, but Melissa Ganzi will return to the field with Flexjet while their son, Grant Ganzi, will compete alongside Roldan and Juancito Bollini with U.S. Polo Assn.
After Wednesday’s qualifying, play will come to Aspen and Rio Grande Park on Thursday with the “High Alpine Cup,” or essentially the fifth-place game, scheduled for 1:15 p.m. At 2:30 p.m. Thursday in Aspen, there will be the annual Celebrity Polo Chukker match, featuring actress Saye Yabandeh, among others.
After Friday’s finals, the festivities conclude with the after party, a fundraiser for the Aspen Valley Hospital Foundation, at the W Aspen Hotel.
“The first thing is we are super proud and it’s really nice that the event is now recognized and people come up to us and say, ‘Oh my god, you’re part of snow polo,’” Melissa Ganzi said. “And they want to be part of it. And also I think the support we have from the sponsors and the hotels makes a huge difference.”
While tickets are required to get into the VIP tent at Rio Grande Park, general viewing of the matches is free and open to the public.
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Herman is the freestyle skiing winner of the Summit Daily’s Peak Performers project, which honors the greatest athletes and most influential figures in Summit county ski and snowboard history.